Is there a word for making a weapons system (a rocket, a tank) inoperable when placed on public display, e.g. in a museum?

What comes to mind is defuse (this seems limited to bombs), disarm (perhaps OK, but I associate "disarmament" with a large scale political process), demilitarize (I think this applies more to territory).

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    I think it's a "dummy" if it never was operable but was always intended for practice/display. I believe I've mostly seen "disarmed" for the case of real armament that has been rendered inoperable.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 1:28
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    Answer has already been accepted - but the word that I've seen in common usage, especially in relation to firearms is "Deactivated".
    – SeanR
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:24
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    General John de Chastelain of Canada, chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, said the proposals had been accepted by the panel as ones that would "put I.R.A. arms completely and verifiably beyond use." -- from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decommissioning_in_Northern_Ireland
    – k1eran
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:25
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    Not sure if this is quite right for your context, but the cosplay community seems to use the neologism peacebind for a similar situation. When a person tries to bring a replica weapon into a convention (as part of their costume), security personnel will verify that it cannot actually be used as a weapon, for instance by fastening a sword into its scabbard. This process is known as peacebinding. Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:50

10 Answers 10


Terminology will depend on the weapon. A rifle might be plugged, usually by installing a plug in the barrel or chamber. Something larger, like a tank or a warship, might be decommissioned or, colloquially, mothballed (from the practice of preserving woolen clothing with paradichlorobenzene pellets.)

Cannon may be converted into quakers, non-firing replicas named for the pacifist Society of Friends. Quakers originated as deceptive strategy, intended to make an enemy think that a fortification was armed when it really wasn't.

See this article from The History Channel for some digressively interesting background.

  • 9
    I like decommissioned.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:19
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    Thanks, I like "decommission", too, but doesn't it literally mean "remove from inventory" rather than "make inoperable"? E.g. couldn't you say "The frigate was decommissioned and transferred to Poland", meaning it's still a functioning warship, but now it's in Poland?
    – MrSparkly
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 5:01
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    @MrSparkly - When you decommission a weapon, you render it inoperable. Dictionary.com : 2. to deactivate; shut down
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 5:25
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    "A MEMBER of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) has denied allegations that some of the firearms the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has decommissioned are homemade or not genuine." It's their job
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 7:08
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    Uh... does the Moro Front realize what MILF means? :)
    – MrSparkly
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 7:21

Deactivation is the legal term in the UK which is applied to the approved methods that can be used to render a firearm inert in a way that prevents it being converted back into a live firing weapon. You even get a certificate to go with your deactivated firearm. If it's a tank or something similar, the term is only applied to the gun in it, not the whole vehicle.

Rendering something inert is a more general term for making a weapon (including things like grenades) harmless. I'm not sure if that could be applied to a vehicle or aircraft though, I think decommissioning is a more appropriate term for a vehicle.


"Safing" covers a lot of territory. I would say "safing for display" to distinguish that from safing-for-transport or safing-for-maintenance. It may be more appropriate for some weapons than others. In the missile business, we installed safing plugs into electrical sockets.


As applied to weapons and ammunition, the changing from a state of readiness for initiation to a safe condition. Also called de-arming.

note above: de-arming, not dis-arming.

With respect to explosives themselves, Render Safe Procedures (RSP) is the catchall and the acronym is used as a verb as well as a noun. You're going to hate this example.

The responsibility of the bomb squad is to RSP improvised explosive devices ...


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    "Safing"? //shudder. I think I'd shudder a little bit less if it were spelled "safe-ing", but even so. Have I mentioned //shudder?
    – Marthaª
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:55
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    Isn't safing a strictly temporary measure? Maybe more than flipping a safety catch but not much.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 6:55
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    Not being familiar with this term, I would have guessed that it meant putting it inside a safe. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 10:44
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    In the US military, at least when I served, "safe that weapon" meant to flick the selector switch from "single/auto fire" to the "safe" position. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 14:52
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    i bet "display-safe" or "parade-safe" would be used often by the military regarding parades. there would be very specific practices for each type of weapon or system.
    – Fattie
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 21:47

Disabled weapons is a catch-all term used here in the UK. Unfortunately as a pair of words it's more common in other senses but a search for '"disabled weapons" legal' will return hits such as this Australian example.

Unlike safing a weapon, disabling it is intended to be permanent, though reactivated weapons are a notable source of funds for criminals. As this suggests, deactivate is used similarly to disable.


You might think this word applied only to territory, but


does in fact appear to be the word that the Department of Defense of the United States uses for this purpose. From a presentation by the US Defense Logistics Agency:

To Demilitarize or DEMIL a piece of property means to remove its offensive and defensive capabilities.

From US Army Regulation 700-144:


The act of destroying the military offensive or defensive advantages inherent in certain types of equipment or material. The term includes mutilation, dumping at sea, scrapping, melting, burning, or alteration designed to prevent the further use of this equipment and material for its originally intended military or lethal purpose regardless of the condition of the item. Requires total destruction of the item and components so as to preclude its restoration or repair to a usable condition.

In practice, "total destruction" (mentioned in the final sentence of the definition) seems to mean merely that it is not practically possible to restore the item to working condition.

  • I gave you an upvote, but if you just want to put a fighter on static display for one day during an air show, you don't demil it. Similarly, for a display or diorama, you want to retain just the things you get rid of when you demil something - things like the paint and 3" high serial numbers on the thing. If you demil a truck, you pull the radios and obliterate markings and registration numbers.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:53
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    @PhilSweet I understood the question to mean that the item is permanently displayed, not just for a day during an air show. For the air show, "disarm" seems more apt. I see that the regulation has a chapter specifically on the topic of donations that uses the adjectives "partial" and "limited" along with the noun "demilitarization". Depending on context, therefore, I suppose it pays to be very careful how you use that word.
    – David K
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:42
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    +1 I used to work for a place that bought scrap from the government and "demilitarization" is the term that was always used there.
    – Ukko
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 20:11



To make unable or unfit; esp., to make incapable of normal activity; disable. YourDictionary


To render safe mines, bombs, missiles, and boobytraps. Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

  • I think to neutralize is close.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 18:28

"Deactivated" is probably the most technically correct single word answer, but in North America at least, the noun "DEWAT" or "Dewat" is sometimes used also as a verb.

Eg: "That rifle has been deactivated; it is a DEWAT."

is correct usage, but it would also be common to hear something like:

"She had the rifle dewatted because it would be illegal to have a functional one in her collection."

Here is a definition from the BATF in the US:

10.1.5 DEWATS. Deactivated War Trophy (DEWAT) firearms are still firearms under the NFA, >but have been rendered unserviceable (i.e., incapable of discharging a shot >by means of an explosive and incapable of being readily restored to a >firing condition). The deactivation may have been accomplished by various >means such as (but not limited to) welding of the chamber, cutting the >barrel/chamber/breech, plugging the barrel, welding the bolt to the >chamber, or some combination of these actions which rendered the firearm >incapable of firing a shot.


It can also be applied to things like artillery pieces and shells; for instance: http://laststandonzombieisland.com/2014/10/05/want-a-dewatted-bofors-just-25k/.


The closest I can think is spiking a gun.

Initially the term was used for sabotaging a gun barrel so it can't be easily used by an enemy. It still generally looks the same on the outside, but it can't be actually used to fire without a lot of work removing the spike.

Displayed military hardware typically has a more thorough version of the same operation done to it (eg: Pouring concrete down the barrel), but I've heard the term used in that context. This can also be referred to as "Plugging" the gun (hat tip to @Hot Licks for this)

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    I think the less bellicose term for this sort of thing is "plugging the gun". A stage pistol is often "plugged", eg.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 1:40
  • @HotLicks - You're right. I've heard that term too. Adding it in.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 1:44
  • Incidentally, spiking the gun was far harder to reverse than removing the spike as it ruined the shape of the priming area, making it unsafe to attempt to fire.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:57

I agree with disarmed.

Random House says that disarm means "to remove the fuse or other actuating device from something (e.g. a bomb)".

An arm is "a means of offense or defense; weapon". So to disarm something is to render it a non-weapon. It works for me.


Demilitarize is the proper, "professional" term.

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    This was already given as an answer by David K.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 19:03

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